Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

Adult children of narcissistic parents can have some pretty unique problems in life. Narcissism always damages relationships. And narcissistic parenting particularly takes a toll on children.  All children are different. So, each child’s experience with a narcissistic parent can affect them quite differently. Many other variables affect how a parent’s narcissism harms a child, too. And in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at several of them.

Some adult children of narcissistic parents struggle with chronic feelings of insecurity. Others have difficulty developing a healthy, stable sense of self. Sadly, still others end up repeating many of the same patterns and behaviors that so negatively affected their character development. It’s almost impossible for narcissistic parents not to damage a child’s self-image. But exactly what kind of damage they inflict can vary considerably.

Growing Up under the Shadow of the Gaslight

Last week, I wrote about narcissists always having to be right. (See: Why Narcissists Always Have to Be Right.) This can profoundly damage a child’s development. Children need to learn what’s real and what isn’t. And they need to learn what’s true and what isn’t. These are inherently difficult tasks, even in the best of circumstances. But they become almost impossible when you’re parented by a narcissist. For many narcissists, reality is what they say it is. And truth is how they choose to define it. They respect no higher power or authority. So, they don’t  subordinate themselves to any more objective standard of judgment.

Adult children of narcissistic parents can spend years overcoming the effects of childhood gaslighting. That’s the crazy-making feeling narcissists can give you, especially the covert ones. Deep down, you sense they’re trying to tear you down. But then they insist you’re imagining it. Or you sense they’re misrepresenting things. But they’ll somehow convince you that you’re the one who’s confused. I introduced this concept in the very first edition of In Sheep’s Clothing. But at the time, we didn’t have a word for it. And we didn’t know as much about it as we do today. Still, it’s a very real and most unfortunate phenomenon.

Narcissists make you doubt yourself. You can even begin to doubt your sanity. But the worst thing that can happen is when you begin to doubt who you truly are. Narcissists are good at subtly belittling and demeaning. And when someone tells you often enough that you just don’t get it or don’t measure up, it leaves a mark. The damage is even worse when they preach how much they love you but their actions say otherwise.

(For more, see: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.)

Repeating the Pattern

Adult children of narcissistic parents can unwittingly repeat destructive patterns. And they can do this in many different ways. We’ll be exploring some of those ways in the coming weeks.


Check the PESI website in about a month for the new and admittedly limited workshop schedule.

And look for an announcement soon about the upcoming release of the Spanish Language edition of In Sheep’s Clothing.

16 thoughts on “Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents

  1. I look forward to this, maybe I will gain some insight about my son and daughter, their Dad was a narcissist and I see very similar patterns in them.

  2. Looking forward to reading more. It will help me to spot my errors in thinking and behaving as well as help me to understand my daughter as well. They are learned attitudes and behaviors.

    As an aside. I normally subscribe so I can keep up on comments by email, but the spammers are getting out of hand and filling up the mailbox. Dr. Simon, any way to weed them out/block them?

    1. So sorry for this latest onslaught! We block them and they come back. SPAMERS and Trolls keep getting more devious. The webmaster is looking at better ways to block.

  3. It’s really hard growing up with a narcissist seemed like the longest time ever I thought I was crazy,she had me on A.D.D. medicine at age 6..then to top it off dealing with the spiritual and ritualistic trauma..I’m not a victim any more and I definitely know I’m not crazy..I’m very empathetic and caring of others..something she doesn’t have..I know we all are equal.. I dont regret growing up experiencing the things I have been subjected too..its all made me a stronger person and has taught me some very major life lessons..its just hard seeing how once I woke up and realized I wasn’t crazy and that it was her that had some serious core issues and character flaws..she knew she didnt have that power over me any more, but before I became fully aware of how she was using my energy as energy to feed off of, it was too late she had done played the roll of the devil himself and tricked me in the most major way and that’s when she played on me and truly had me convinced that I was the problem and it was just all in my head, she played on me and took advantage of me for it..and that’s where I made the biggest mistake of my entire life, I thought I was doing what was best for my son by signing my parental rights over to her..she promised me I was doing what was best for him..she said she would never keep me from him or out of his life..but as soon as I signed her the rights to him I noticed her true intentions coming out..she gaslights me everywhere I live.she is the point of where its son constantly is naked when I come home..she always crawls out of bed with no pants on..and spanks him with different items, spoons,cooking spatulas..and I call her out and make sure to put clothes on him every time I see her letting him think it’s ok for him to be naked..and I’m very kind hearted and just redirect him in positive ways..she tells me I’m such a horrible father..but I dont let it even effect me when she says that because I know I’m a damn good father and I’m very protective over him and his wellbeing comes before mine and my freedom.. I have reported her twice to the police and made two different reports of her abusing my son..I was the whistleblower..I stood up for him and did what I was supposed to do as a father protecting my son would do..but ohh boy let me tell that opened up the gates to hell for me after that, boy did she retaliate on me for exposing her,ten days exactly after I reported her abusing my son to the police when I went out for my birthday to spend the night out with friends, when I came home the next day my son pulled me aside and told me my mom was hurting him when I was gone that night before,and I asked her how she was hurting him and he pointed to his but and how she was spanking him and that’s when I noticed on both his arms human bite Mark’s, so I made videos of the Mark’s on him and told her that I was going to make a police report, then as I told her I wasn’t going to file the report with the police for the second time on her abusing my son, that’s when my son fell into one of the ritualistic mind control alters,my son wouldnt even respond to me,he was is a zombie like state..she buys him Halloween mask, and let’s him watch Michael Myers and Jason, but when I’m around I dont let him watch that kind of stuff..I only let him watch positive happy stuff..I know that the horror movies and mask are used to split the alters..its some kind of sick cult conditioning they use to install fear ..its sick..sick this is the worse kind of pain to go through seeing this being done to my son by my own mom…I have went to the cops and made two different reports on her doing this..and the last time ten days later after I made the report she starts an argument with me then calls the cops on me and has them arrest me for false terrorist threats..retaliation for exposing her.. do I regret standing up for my son..nope not one bit..I stood up for him because he is a kid and dont have the voice to speak for him self.. the only thing I’m afraid of is I dont want to be split up from him ever..he need me very much so to be in his life by his side..and I need him in my life by his side..I know him and I will need lots of counseling and therapy, but I know I’m a good daddy and with giving the chance and the narricst to not be in so much control over him and I then my son and I would have a real chance at recovery togather..I’m not giving up..and I’m not falling for her tricks any further..she had me convinced I was crazy when I was younger..but I’m grown and see things for what they are….I’m sorry i wrote so much..but I’m just venting for myself and for my own healing..thanks for your time and support..Logan

  4. My the mother/grandmother were avoidant, dependant, narcissisic ,sadistic, borderlines.

    After waisting two thirds of my life trying to change them. I walked away.
    And so far thing have got better. The scares will never heal, the wounds run to deep for that.
    Just keep moving forward, take every day as it comes and never loose faith in yourself

    1. I’m sorry when I read your words and then realize I had two narcissistic parents. My mother was a ‘covert’ narcissist and my father was an ‘overt’ and violent narcissist. I cut my father off years ago, but was unable to shake my mother until the day she died, 10 years ago now. The damage is deep and permanent, but I survived and refuse to be their victim. It destroyed both sides of my family and prevented me from having loving relationships with my half-siblings. I stayed alone for 24 years raising my children, the last 10 years completely alone as my kids became adults. Now, I have two narcissistic children. Like one other commenter here, I made up my mind early in childhood that I would be NOTHING like either of my parents. I spent many hours of my childhood in my closet crying and asking God why he gave me parents that didn’t want me and hated me…
      Fear of rejection, insecurity, all of it… stays with me, even at 51.
      I keep holding on. Found a wonderful man who is my rock, but it took a long time to learn how to trust that much.

      1. OMG I read your comment after mine, the similarities are beyond coincidence.
        I literally relate to EVERYTHING in your story.
        Like EVERYTHING.
        2 kids, both narcissists, under the spell of money, taught money=success=worthy of respect.
        And lack thereof=the opposite.
        Only difference – last 8yrs purposely avoided meaningful relationships.
        Or ANY for that matter.
        I’m not ugly, no issue there.
        Still not sure I can go there.
        Being unattached is the only safe feeling I know.

      2. OMG Valerie, This is just like my story, Difference is that my mom passed away 2 years ago and my wonderful husband (father to myn 4 daughters) passed away almost a year ago. As you can imagine, my grief left me with an open, wounded heart. Saw my dad as I was burried in grief and his gaslighting triggered me. As if in a trance I shared with him what I have been through all my life by recalling his actions and that’s all it took to end the incredible love he professses… apparently he has cut ME off. He had no words to say to me after I shared and I guess I thank GOD that he has been alienated from me, as I cannot take a direct hit to an open and wounded heart. I certainly have my kind late husband to thank for, for being able to have closeness with others after so many years of being closed off.

  5. After years of being gaslighted by both parents (narc mom, absent dad) my siblings joined in, likely subconsciously convinced by the 2 people they looked to, to define their perception of the world, that I was the source of every problem in our family.
    I am almost 60 & never thought their could be anything worse than the feeling I experienced in my teens, while crumpled up tightly in a ball in corner of my room, wanting to die, because nobody in the entire world knew what I was feeling, who I really was.
    I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I DIDN’T DO IT!
    My dad was absent, blamed it on work, later laughed how he’d drive 30-45 mins around the block to avoid going home.
    Well, during her mentally ill mother’s “extended vacations” at the local sanitarium, while “getting better” ala “intense mental treatment” (including shock therapy) for her “wrong thinking” her alcoholic dad raped her.
    Likely as a result, shortly after marrying my dad (while in H.S. to avoid the draft) -LITERALLY leaving her parents to be his child bride – she pumped out 3 kids almost 2 yrs spaced apart, bc that’s what good wives did.
    She ballooned to 300 lbs & my dad threatened to divorce her moomoo wearing fat ass constantly, in front of us.
    Fairly sure she never evolved mentally, intellectually OR emotionally beyond 18 years.
    She blamed me/my sister every time my dad accused her of scarfing a box of donuts, cereal, cookies etc.
    As a result we both developed severe eatings disorders, which I escaped but my sister did not. She’s 50 yrs old & still bulimic.
    My brother tried 2x to commit suicide.
    My sister’s 3x rehab champ for meth, alcohol, food addictions.
    Me – I’m 2x rehab repeat offender.
    However I also have the blessing of being crowned “scapegoat” as the middle child, oldest girl. Lucky me.
    I cannot even conceptualize the amount of money I’ve spent trying to excise my demons.
    Feels like half my life I’ve spent crying, tormenting myself for being a shitty parent, wondering why I avoid intimacy with EVERYONE (except my kids).
    I can’t make a decision if it bit me in the ass, without at least 1/2_ day tormenting myself before/during/after.
    I don’t even know who I am.
    My brother & sister have jumped on the “she’s crazy, we’re not, just her” bandwagon because well, who wouldn’t?
    The entire family knows my mom is prob certifiably NUTS, in a clinical sense.
    However she’s allowed to wear the pants & defying her is futile. Goody bags for allies. Burning slowly in hell for all others.
    So, no peace for me still.
    My family is one beating heart, one hivemind, my sister Queen Bee.
    She’s currently addicted to Adderall & so aggressive I more than once chose to leave her house post-bulging forehead veins, worried about outcome if I’d stayed.
    She’s flown of the handle 3x over last 2 mos, both times admitting she was wrong for assuming & losing her sh*t as result.
    All 3x my father/mother/brother insisted was because I was TROUBLEMAKER, before/during AND AFTER she admitted situations were HER fault.
    That’s INSANE.
    Yet still messes with my head, makes me feel like the crazy one looking in from outside.
    SCAPEGOATS may end up stronger at the end.
    But not a role I would wish upon even my worst enemy.

  6. As the ex-wife of a narcissist and mother of two grown sons, how can you teach your children to discount the advice that their father gives them? My youngest wanted to go to college for music but his dad talked him out of his dream. He has been wandering through college for many years now about to graduate with a degree in Marketing which he has no interest. I’m constantly feeling like my ex is still gaslighting me through my sons and now I feel estranged from what I did have left of my family. All of this still continues even though we have nearly two thousand miles between us and my ex. I used to have such a close relationship with my sons and now I hardly ever hear from them.

  7. I have had the first 50 years of my life consumed by a narcissistic mother. I have never felt like my life was mine to live. This way of thinking is now over with, as I have cut her negativity out of my life, and now have taken over the helm. I know I must unlearn everything that has clouded my mind with fear, and self- sabotage. It’s like being afraid of being happy, but not knowing why, which is hard to understand for most people. Knowledge is the thing that sets you free. The sooner you figure it out, the more of your life you can call your own.

  8. Both parents were narcissists. I’m in my early 60’s and this important topic is just now being discussed. I found Alice Miller and a few others in the mid 80’s. I married an emotionally distant, unavailable man who is a covert narcissist – another term being discussed and written about.

    Thanks to the internet I now know and understand so much and am learning daily.

  9. When does it stop? I asserted ‘no contact’ almost five years ago. I thought everything was okay with a couple relationships but now believe they are proxies. I am the one alone, am I the problem? I feel like I did as a little girl wondering what’s wrong with me. Now I have to break every single tie and I was just diagnosed with a serious health problem. And they know. You would think I did something unforgivable to each and every one of them. I had to move 3000 miles away from them five years ago to unravel my identity, or what was left of it. Somehow that too makes me the bad guy. I realize now that you can’t assert ‘no contact’ with the narcissist and still maintain relationships with proxies. It’s heartbreaking, again. So the last medical form I filled out that asked for an emergency contact, I wrote “God”.

  10. Hi there, I am a 54 year old women and have probably only recently accepted that my father is a narcissist (who also lives with my husband and I). My mother has passed away but I have also recently properly accepted that she was an alcoholic. They divorced when I was in my early 20’s after a volatile, stressful and sometimes physically violent marriage.
    I have recently been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but I think I have suffered with this for most of my life.
    I am enjoying your articles, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *